While Botswana partially allows infrastructure sharing in the telecommunications sector, the same cannot be said of broadcasting. This has prompted private broadcasters to suggest that the move could be politically motivated.
┬áOwen Rampa, Yarona FM station manager, is saddened by words like ‘mandatory’ that are only applied to sharing in telecommunications, but not to broadcasting.
“Why is there silence in regard to broadcasting? ┬áI implore BTA to help broadcasting,” said Rampa.
┬áMISA Botswana, which conspicuously was not present at the discussion workshop on infrastructure sharing last week, feels government should promote infrastructure sharing if it believes in democracy and freedom of expression.
┬áNational director of the media organisation, Thapelo Ndlovu, told The Telegraph they agree with infrastructure sharing, but said he was not surprised that government is dragging its feet in legalising sharing in broadcasting.
┬á“We agree with infrastructure sharing, especially that it is recognised in Africa Charter on Broadcasting,” he said.
┬áThe charter clearly advocates for states releasing some of its infrastructure for use by public broadcasters as transmitters have tended to be expensive and cannot be afforded by new comers in the commercial radio terrain.
┬á“It is important for government to come in,” he advised, adding that broadcast media have been found to be an accessible form of communication.
┬áHowever, the MISA boss praised Botswana’s commercial radio stations for taking the initiative to be self reliant.
┬áIn a bid to have a greater outreach and share costs, the three private stations, namely Duma, Gabz FM and Yarona FM, had formed Kemonokeng Holdings, a company that is responsible for running the transmission of the three private radio stations.
┬á “It is a good thing if they are able to pull their resources together. Then the state will be there to help new ones,” Ndlovu said.
┬áInfrastructure sharing in broadcasting is not very clear as compared to telecommunications. For example, the Broadcasting Act of 1988 does not make any reference to sharing.
┬áHowever, an attempt to allow private players to use Broadcasting Services was referred to in the Broadcasting Policy of 2004, of which the draft is gathering dust somewhere.
┬áSection 6.2 of the draft policy states that: “The transmission of the Department of Broadcasting Services should either be privatised or turned into a parastatal independent from government and under public control.”
┬áIt added that such an enterprise could sustain itself by offering transmission services to public and private broadcasters as well as community radio stations.
“A signal distribution system, which is independent, efficient, cost effective and conducive, will be put in place to the development of broadcasting in Botswana and one which gives universal access to all operators.”
Broadcasting Services has a greater outreach compared to the three private radio stations and eBotswana.
┬áHowever, the reluctance is seen by independent observers as a ploy by the state to monopolise opinion as seen by its reluctance to allow community radio stations. It is argued that if the rural folks have access to private radio station, they could interpret issues differently.
┬áICT Consultants, a company hired by BTA to help come up with a regulatory framework on infrastructure sharing, has recommended that government should finalise the procession of Draft Broadcasting Policy so as to give a clear policy direction on sharing in the broadcasting sector.
However, government, on the other hand, said it does not yet have an approved policy on the use of broadcasting services, but it does have an initiative to share services in some instances.
Dr. Jeff Ramsay, the Coordinator for the Government Communication and Information Systems at Office of the President, said he is aware that the existing question in terms of sharing broadcasting services is whether government should share the use of transmitters, which he said has not been addressed so far.┬á ┬á┬á
He said that if government were to approve of sharing the use of transmitters with the private broadcasters, then some sort of partnership agreements would have to be reached.
He said that as far as he knows the private broadcasters have been pulling own weight well without the help of government.
“So far, broadcasting services that have been put up by government are being fully utilised, it turns out that in some cases the services are inadequate, so the government will not be in a position to share services that are lacking in its own departments,” said Ramsay.